A Happy Birthday WordPress

As website platforms go, WordPress has stood the test of time, and has gone from strength to strength as competitors have struggled to keep up. So what does WordPress have that the others don't? Read on to find out.
27 May, 2020


WordPress is the foremost website content management system in the world today (2020). It is used by publishers, developers, content writers, and business owners – large and small – to get their content online easily and cost-effectively.

WordPress has its 17th birthday today, and we would like to celebrate that achievement.


WordPress initial release 27 May 2003

Although WordPress had kind of been around in slightly different forms earlier, its first official release came on 27 May 2003.

Originally developed as a blogging platform, WordPress soon evolved as a system for content publishers to build any sort of website. From its humble beginnings, WordPress has grown to dominate the website landscape worldwide, and is now used in a whopping 34% of the top 1 million websites (by traffic volume)! To put this into some context, that is 343,000 of the biggest million websites on the planet. At least 27 million websites worldwide use WordPress, although the likely ‘real’ number will be much higher than this. 

Growth in WordPress websites between 2011 and 2020

Number of WordPress websites – growth over time since 2011 (graph courtesy of trends.builtwith.com)

A Jazz-themed version history

The core team at WordPress are Jazz fans.

Ever since version 1.0, they have named all of their major releases after well-known Jazz artists. So there are lots of familiar names there, from Miles Davis (version 1.0) to Nat Adderley (version 5.4), passing the likes of Billie Holiday, Betty Carter, and Count Basie on the way, you’ll find most of them there (leaving some for the inevitable future releases).

Do you have a favourite Jazz musician who hasn’t been honoured with a WordPress release yet?

When have all the WordPress versions been released, and what were their Jazz names?

Jazz musician playing saxophone to depict WordPress theme release naming

2003 – humble beginnings

Remember what you were doing in 2003?

You wouldn’t have been on Facebook – that didn’t turn up until 2004.

You wouldn’t have been watching videos on Youtube – that came along in 2005.

If you were into social media, you might have been using Friendster. MySpace was just starting to appear – remember how big that got? Where is it now?

Flickr and Photobucket launched in 2003, at the start of the photo-sharing era. It’s surprising that Earth hasn’t shifted its orbit under the digital weight of all the images now being stored.

If you were a blogger, then you might have been using platforms such as TypePad or Blogger. Blogger was launched in 1997 and was considered the first big blogging platform. It’s still around now and was, interestingly, bought by Google in 2003!

If you were building websites, you may have been using products like Dreamweaver. Otherwise, Drupal, another content management system similar to WordPress, had been around since 2001. Joomla didn’t arrive until 2005, although you may have been using its predecessor – Mambo – in 2003.

Musically (not all my choice you understand) you may have been listening to “American Life” by Madonna, or “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes.

Arsenal beat Southampton in the F.A. Cup final, which was played in Cardiff whilst the new Wembley Stadium was being completed.

During a one-day summit between Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Putin mocks Britain and America’s failure to locate weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Enough said!

Amid all of this, a snotty-nosed tech infant enters the World, destined to become an absolute World beater and enabler for web publishers.

2020 – WordPress enters late adolescence

Zoom forward 17 years from 2003, and WordPress is now pretty much synonymous with blogging.

Ok, before any of you purists say that there are plenty of other platforms on which to build websites – there are. A few, such as Joomla and Drupal, have been around for about as long as WordPress, but WordPress (34% market share) is so much more dominant than Joomla (1.6%) and Drupal (2.6%). Other relative newcomers, such as Wix and Squarespace, are building an audience, but still account for less than 2% of the entire market between themselves.

Why WordPress?

How has WordPress opened up such a gap in market share in such a devastating fashion, when there were other apparently similar products available?

We can all point to various aspects of usability, design, functionality, cost of deployment, etc. However, I think it has more to do with ecosystems…

1) WordPress made it easy for developers to build plugins. There are 56,000 official plugins in the WordPress repository and countless 3rd-party plugins;

2) WordPress made it easy for designers to build themes. Apart from the various free themes, of which there are around 7,500, there are huge numbers of premium themes available, offering all sorts of design variations;

3) WordPress uses a commonly available software stack for deployment;

4) There are two flavours of WordPress (self-hosted and wordpress.com). Bloggers who want a simple experience can use wordpress.com, where everything is set up for them – they just need to choose their theme and start adding their content. Businesses that need more flexibility and functionality will opt for self-hosting, but will essentially be using the same core code;

5) The WordPress core code keeps evolving – it just hasn’t stopped, or even slowed down. So it doesn’t become dated;

6) The developer community is enormous! Drawing experts from coding, design, and marketing, provides a hugely rich ecosystem. This has kept the cost of building and supporting WordPress sites relatively low… and before you question that, I have to tell you that I regularly hear stories of non-WordPress website owners getting charged very large amounts by development agencies to make the kind of small mods that many WordPress owners can do for themselves;

7) Many general and very technically specific groups and forums exist. Search for WordPress in the communities areas of platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook will yield huge numbers of groups.

To summarise

Love it or hate it, WordPress has been successful during a period when so many similar products have been available. So, it has done something right and Matt Mullenweg and the WordPress team deserve to be wished a very Happy Birthday.

If it is still around in another 17 years, as it hits middle age, how might it look? What’s going to take its place?

As always, your thoughts and comments are greatly appreciated below, please.


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